Last year, I reengaged with AIGA. Serving as the professional association for design (photography, illustration, and interactive), AIGA provides all sorts of learning and sharing experiences while adding value to the industry. Generally, I attend lectures and salons to connect with other creatives and learn more about design.
One particularly enlightening lecture was given by Shel Perkins to promote his book Talent is Not Enough: Business Secrets for Designers. He highlighted ten very relevant practices for helping your business succeed.
- Be honest with yourself. Not everyone is cut out to be an entrepreneur. If you are happy being an employee, stay an employee.
- Don’t launch on spec. Have at least one project lined up in advance. No matter how many prospective projects you might get, be certain that you will have something that will pay your bills. Also, do not hire your agency’s clients—that can land you in a legal battle.
- Hire people who are different from you. For your new company to succeed, it needs an array of skill sets. You must fill in any missing gaps to increase your capabilities. Never let your ego get in the way of growing your business.
- Become a good employer. A good leader encourages, inspires and guides. Your employees should be happy to work with you. Refer to basic labor laws for tips and pointers.
- Know about copyright. Don’t get caught up in legal tape when dealing with your design and your client’s ownership. Know who owns what before you start working.
- Understand trademarks. Generally, you can trademark a unique shape, logo, sound or scent. This can be very daunting when you must come up with a new idea in a saturated market. Avoid infringing upon an existing idea. If you cannot research brands yourself, hire a legal team (or have your client do so).
- Watch out for defamation, privacy and publicity. A lot can go wrong when you are dealing with someone else’s likeness or ideas. Get permission before using other people’s work and respect restrictions.
- Sign contracts. You should have a signed contract! If you are not certain where to start, consider visiting an attorney. A great resource for contracts is the Graphic Artist Guild’s Handbook: Pricing and Ethical Guidelines.
- Watch cash flow like a hawk. It is easy to lose track of expenses. Always remember that your income is based upon your clients—nothing more, nothing less. Your rates must cover all expenses and even then, you don’t want to lose more than 65% of your income to external costs.
- Have an exit strategy. Plan for your retirement—both personally and professionally. Your company must be able to survive without you. If that means relying upon a co-owner or establishing middle-management, make it happen so you can leave well.
I have always been a little nervous about being my own boss. While I don’t think I am ready for my own business, I always enjoy learning more about the steps to doing so properly. For more information, purchase Talent Is Not Enough and consult AIGA’s Center for Practice Management. Have any of you made the shift from employee to employer? Sound off about it in the comments.